In Inspiration, Preservation, and New Testament Textual Criticism, Daniel Wallace claims “the doctrine of preservation was not a doctrine of the ancient church. In fact, it was not stated in any creed until the seventeenth century (in the Westminster Confession of 1646). The recent arrival of such a doctrine, of course, does not necessarily argue against it—but neither does its youthfulness argue for it. Perhaps what needs to be explored more fully is precisely what the framers of the Westminster Confession and the Helvetic Consensus Formula (in 1675) really meant by providential preservation.”
Problems with Wallace’s position include:
- The argument from silence. Wallace brashly states “the doctrine of preservation was not a doctrine of the ancient church” but rather one of “recent arrival.” What proof does he offer? Silence! Where does he show the ancient church denied the doctrine of preservation? Nowhere that I noticed. In the statement he seems to exclude the New Testament churches from “the ancient church” – though certainly they were the “ancientest”. Of course he has already dismissed that by concluding the Bible does not teach a doctrine of preservation (ergo, the New Testament churches did not teach it). We shall see.
- The nature of confessions. By calling attention to the fact preservation “was not stated in any creed until the seventeenth century” Wallace ignores the nature of creeds and confessions. Even if the Westminster of 1646 is the first creed to mention preservation it does not follow that no one believed it before this time. Obviously the folks who drafted the Westminster believed it at least some time previous to writing it into the confession. But, mainly, creeds and confessions do not often address doctrines until they become issues of dispute. No Baptist Confessions address homosexual marriage before the 20th or 21st centuries. That is not proof those Baptists before then believed in them – just that this was not at issue before this time. The Waldensian Confession of Faith of 1120 acknowledges “the books of the Holy Bible” as “sacred canonical scriptures” – which is certainly consistent with preservation, though not stating it.
- Throw away sentence. To cast doubt he concludes by saying, “Perhaps what needs to be explored more fully is precisely what the framers of the Westminster Confession and the Helvetic Consensus Formula (in 1675) really meant by providential preservation.” Perhaps we should. I wonder if he has, and if not, why he hasn’t? To hint they didn’t believe in a doctrine of preservation when they stated they did is simply a diversionary debate tactic.
- Two-edged sword cuts both ways. The sword of historical reference is double-edged and cuts both ways. Wallace complains about a doctrine he believes can only be traced back to 1646 while asserting his own view whose arrival is as recent as 1991. In The Preservation of Scripture, W. W. Combs points to the 1991 piece by Daniel Wallace as “apparently the first definitive, systematic denial of a doctrine of preservation of Scripture.”[i] Recent arrival? I’d say.
Tomorrow, Preservation: Not a KJVO debate (d.v.)